Movie Review: Ann Hornaday on 'The Proposal' With Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds

Sandra Bullock stars as a driven book editor who forces her assistant, Ryan Reynolds, to marry her so she can keep her visa and avoid deportation to Canada. Video by Walt Disney Pictures.
By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 19, 2009

Just looking at the poster for "The Proposal," a by-the-numbers romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, tells you exactly how it's all gonna go down. Tightly wound dominatrix of a boss (Bullock), dressed in cinch-waisted suits and Christian Louboutin peep-toes that could put an eye out at 50 paces, dragoons her long-suffering male secretary (Reynolds) into marrying her so her U.S. visa won't expire (she's Canadian). Testy arguments, antic high jinks and true love ensue. Cue the adorable closing-credits sequence, and we're out!

It's as predictable and comforting as a Happy Meal, but it must be said that "The Proposal" manages to elicit some genuinely amusing moments, especially when it comes to physical comedy. Director Anne Fletcher ("27 Dresses") started out as a choreographer, and that's still where she shines. She does a great job staging sequences in which Bullock's staff collectively shudders in horror when her character makes her way past their desks. (When she arrives at the office an internal instant message goes out: "It's here.") Later, Fletcher makes a preposterous two-way naked body-slam work, despite being painfully contrived.

"The Proposal" is the kind of reassuringly bland and rigidly structured entertainment widget that depends on a series of "wammies" to give it any zip. Here they arrive in the form of fitfully funny slapstick moments, including a labored bit of business involving a fluffy white dog, a hungry eagle and a cellphone, and a New Age ritualistic dance in which Bullock and Betty White (underused as Reynolds's kittenish grandmother) get all jiggy with it. A gag involving a randy waiter-stripper played by Oscar Nuñez of "The Office" goes on way too long.

Reynolds and Bullock don't generate much chemistry, but they're cute and fun to watch, and both can be thanked for bringing restraint to otherwise thankless roles. Reynolds gets to deliver some of "The Proposal's" choicest lines, most of them at the expense of Bullock's humorless character. When it turns out that they will be investigated by a suspicious U.S. immigration official (Denis O'Hare), he tells his boss that, like all secretaries, he knows way more about her than she does about him, including her allergies "to pine nuts and a full spectrum of human emotion." And the gags keep coming, in what turns out to be the comic bookend to the extravagant gore-fest "Drag Me to Hell," in which another powerful woman meets her comeuppance.

Admittedly, the heroine of that giddily gothic B-movie is punished by death. In "The Proposal," female aspiration is merely tamed, in this case after some sly gender role-reversal in which Bullock manipulates her employee much in the same way that male bosses exploited secretaries and stenographers in 1950s melodramas. For a while there, it looks as if "The Proposal" might turn out to be an interestingly subversive take on office sexual politics in the 21st century. But since when did that put tushies in seats? Finally, "The Proposal," much like its heroine, succumbs to the strictures of convention and dutifully fulfills its role, in this case of living up to the poster.

The Proposal (104 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual content, nudity and profanity.

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